Bryan Mulford

How Strumming Is Notated In Music

There are only two ways to strum a guitar: a downstroke and an upstroke. Since there are only two types of strokes, there are only two types of symbols you need to know! Let’s find out.

The Two Types Of Guitar Strums

The Down Stroke

The down stroke is when you pluck the string going from the top of the guitar to the bottom or, in other words, if you were to bring your pick up to the top of the guitar (above the low E string) and then let your hand fall down and pluck the string. This is a down stroke.

The Up Stroke

The upstroke is when you pluck the opposite way. You come from the bottom of the guitar and pluck upwards towards the top of the guitar.

The down stroke and up stroke are aptly named because you either pick down towards the ground or up towards the sky.

How Are Strums Notated

Strumming Notation

Strumming Notation

Where To Place Strumming Notation

Notations for strumming are placed directly above the note head and they only apply to the note they are above. If you do not see any notation marking, you will need to figure out yourself what the best way to strum the music is.

The Down Stroke

Down strokes are notated by an upside down square U. Whenever you see any one of these in music, you know to do a down stroke by picking from high to low on the guitar.

The Up Stroke

Up strokes are notated by a V.When you see this marking you will know to play an upstroke by going from low to high on the guitar.

Keep In Mind

Always Alternate Pick

Alternate picking is always going down stroke, up stroke, down stroke, up stroke and so on. This allows you to keep a consistent picking pattern that will allow you to play much faster without having to think as much.

Instead of thinking that you have to go “down, down, up, down down down, up” you simply alternate pick the entire time. “down, up, down, up, down, up, down.”

Down, Down, Up, Up.

Alternate Picking On Upbeats and Downbeats

Alternate Picking On Upbeats and Downbeats

Down Strokes On Down Beats

Down strokes should always be played on down beats. That is, down stroke on beat one, two, three and four. But beats can also be subdivided. If we now have 1 e + a 2 e + a, we will be play down strokes on 1 + 2 +. And it works just the same as we further subdivide the beat.

Just remember that you always start on a down stroke on beat one and then from there alternate picking

Up Strokes On Up Beats

Just the same, always use up strokes on up beats. These would be the and (+) of 1 and the and (+) of 2 now. And if we further subdivide the beat into sixteenth notes, we would be playing up strokes on the e and uh (a) of 1 and the e and uh (a) of 2.

Try It

Strumming Notation

Strumming Notation

Take a look at the above example again. Does it make sense why and where the down strokes and up strokes are placed?

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Bryan Mulford is a musician, sound engineer and photographer currently residing in New Jersey. He writes on musicianship, music theory and other topics in music on his blog at

One Response to “How Strumming Is Notated In Music”

  • Hi Bryan,
    I started learning to play the guitar in Sept of last year and things are now slowly starting to come together.

    I found your website when I was looking for how upstrums are notated. It is very informative and easy to follow. I will be visiting it again. Thanks.